Agile Emergency Management System

15 April 2014

Eric King
Davisbase Consulting LLC

Philip Rogers
Bank of America (Ettain Group)

This is a test of the Agile Emergency Management System. This is only a test. If this were an actual Agile emergency, this message would be followed by instructions based on the severity of the actual Agile emergency. This is only a test.

For those reading this publication, you may remember similar messages, depending on what part of the world that you grew up in. As authors having grown up in the Midwest and Great Plains areas of the United States, we definitely remember these types of weather-related messages, as well as the sound of accompanying sirens. For us, the sirens meant severe weather was on its way, usually in the form of a tornado or other violent storm. These early warning systems were an important part of our childhoods and came with a definitive message -- take shelter immediately.

For anyone with a military background, you might also be familiar with various systems for assessing how dangerous a particular situation might be to a particular nation or locality. In the U.S. military context, there are five Force Protection Conditions, which distinguish between a situation where there is no significant threat (FPCON NORMAL) to the highest-threat level, where attack is considered imminent or has just taken place (FPCON DELTA).

Whether you are more familiar with something like the Emergency Management System or Force Protection Conditions, it is possible to apply a similar approach to assess how healthy a particular work environment is for Agile practitioners. Perhaps you've just started your Agile journey or have been practicing for a while; either way, we hope that our Agile Emergency Management Guide may help you save yourself, your team, your department, or even your company if you're experiencing an actual Agile Emergency.

We begin with a set of conditions that, if widespread, we would consider a potential Agile Emergency, or "AGILECON DELTA." If you find yourself in a situation where some or many of these conditions exist, it is a sign that you need to take immediate action. We have categorized these conditions at the individual level, the team level, the management level, and the organizational level.

We close the article with a brief checklist to help you if you find yourself in an Agile Emergency.

Agile Emergency -- AGILECON DELTA

Individual level
Things you might hear a person say that would suggest that you may have an Agile Emergency:
  • "This is just the latest-and-greatest management approach. I've survived all of the others and I'll survive this one."
  • "This whole Agile team concept is a joke. At the end of the day, I still get rated by my manager. They don't care what approach I take to get my work done."
  • "I've hidden in the shadows for this long. I'll find a way to hide with Agile as well."
  • "As long as I get paid, I really don't care what system, approach, framework, or method I have to follow."
  • "I've been doing Agile since before there was Agile. What's the big deal?"
  • "You want me to actually talk to my colleagues? E-mail is so much simpler."
  • "I'm not really into this whole colocated thing. I need my space."
  • "Why do I need to make a commitment? If I say it'll get done, then it'll get done. Don't you trust me?"
  • "I'm so much better than those around me. This team thing is going to just slow me down."
  • "What's this whole relative sizing thing all about? Just tell me what you need and I'll get it done."

Team level
Things you might hear members of a team say that would suggest you may have an Agile Emergency:
  • "We were doing just fine with Waterfall. And now we have people watching to make sure we deliver something every couple of weeks."
  • "We explained what needed to be done to our integration partners. It's not our fault that they didn't get it done."
  • "We're going to make the demo perfect, no matter how much time it takes."
  • "We see that things are not on track when we look at the team board, but we can't control what others do. We're going to concentrate on our items."
  • "We know what needs to be built. It's in our heads -- there is no need to collaborate with others."
  • "We love Agile because we never need to write anything down; we can just build what needs to be built."
  • "Business wants this and business wants that. . . . Why can't business make up their minds?"
  • "We've never really had to directly interact with business before, so why do we have to do it now? Isn't that the project manager's job?"
  • "Nothing ever changes when we do our retrospectives."
  • "We hear that development and testing folks are supposed to be on the same team, yet we have different managers who have different agendas. There is no way that we can be aligned."

Management level
Things you might hear middle or senior managers say that would suggest you may have an Agile Emergency:
  • "My direct reports are now on multiple teams. How am I supposed to monitor what they are all doing?"
  • "I need a status report on a daily basis."
  • "I can't make each and every stand-up, so I expect my direct reports to give me the information again."
  • "If I'm not directly involved in the project, how am I supposed to evaluate the performance of my employees?"
  • "I manage to dates. These features, stories, tasks, etc., don't mean much to me."
  • "I know Agile. . . . I've read a book."
  • "I must have the daily burn-down in hours. This tells me what my people are doing."
  • "I don't see my position on the Agile team. How can I influence what the team is doing if I'm not a member of the team?"
  • "There isn't anything for me in an Agile initiative!"
  • "How am I supposed to be Agile if my resources are fixed?"

Organizational level
Things you might hear said at a large gathering, such as a division-wide meeting or a company meeting:
  • "Agile is the silver bullet that we have been looking for. We have instituted daily stand-ups across the organization, and that one change will completely transform the way we work."
  • "Agile is just for the application development part of our business."
  • "Once we get the teams up and running, we just sit back and wait for results!"
  • "In our organization we 'do' Agile. . . . It is amazing how similar it is to RUP."
  • "We've scaled Agile in our company by implementing the Scrum of Scrums."
  • "You are all empowered. You are all empowered."
  • "The use of story points makes it really easy to compare teams and tell which ones are underperforming."
  • "This practice of dedicating entire sprints to just bug-fixing is really improving the quality of our code."
  • "Starting up a bunch of dedicated 30-person teams is really helping us focus on getting things done."
  • "Since we instituted Agile, we are not shipping software any more frequently, but we are seeing a huge increase in the number of lines of code each team is producing."

AGILECON Delta Checklist: What to do if you find yourself in an Agile Emergency

  1. Administer immediate Agile first aid, if you are qualified to do so:
    • Stop the bleeding. If there is a death march in progress, give the troops a break and reevaluate the battle plan. If budget, time, and scope are all being locked down for an Agile team or project, educate stakeholders immediately on how Agile planning works.
    • Administer life support. Once the life-threatening situation has been contained, reevaluate the patient for additional Agile-related injuries and treat accordingly. For instance, if story points were being used as a blunt instrument to paint one team in a negative light in comparison with another, work with them to help them understand that story points are intended to be a capacity-planning tool, no more and no less.
  2. Seek counsel so that you can more readily recognize whether you are helping solve the problem or are only making it worse. Even if you are qualified to administer Agile first aid, you probably can't go it alone. If there is no one internal to the organization who has the background to help you, find one or more Agile coaches who have a proven track record.
  3. Establish cultural credibility. Regardless of whether you have in-house Agile champions or use external coaches, developing a small team with cultural credibility is critical for long-term success. These individuals can become your Agile champions. Actively encourage this group to include individuals from multiple functional areas in the company. Also consider rotating people in and out of this group to broaden the number of people with this type of expertise.
  4. Push the Agile boundaries. We've never seen anything related to Agility that has anything to do with terms such as boring, snoring, or conforming. If you've ever played Capture the Flag as a child or adult, you'll remember getting close to the flag and then storming up the hill to get it. Storming with Agile is all about constantly pushing the boundaries. If you feel as if your own version of Agile is like some of the terms above, then it's time seek and ultimately infuse a fresh set of ideas and/or perspectives.
  5. If something is not working for you, do not be afraid to change it. Just because a particular book or "Agile expert" says you have to do things a certain way, don't let that box you in. For instance, if only a subset of Extreme Programming (XP) practices feel like a good fit, then start with that subset. You can always add more practices later. Or if one team is doing well with Kanban and another is having success with Scrum, avoid the temptation to try to force the teams to use the same approach. Not all teams are created equal.
We hope that these insights will help you and your respective organizations as you either begin or continue your journey toward Agility.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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